Digging Deep into The Pit's History
by Matt Lawrence '02 and Keith Meyer '02
(Reprinted from the 11/21/01 issue of The Purple Quill)
The thrill of a Friday night fills the Westside of Cincinnati with anticipation of a fight in the famed "Pit." People flock to the stadium to witness their beloved Panthers take on all comers, and much to their delight, they witness a Panther victory. The Panther Nation, however, didn't always have that luxury.
Walking around the Pit, Keith Meyer and I were accompanied by the incomparable Mr. Doerger. He took us around The Pit, telling us of its electrical wiring throughout the stadium and field. He told us about how the architects had to place a mound in the middle of the field so it didn't wear down. He told us how when pouring concrete for the stands it overflowed into the neighbors' back yards. But we dug even deeper to try and unlock some of The Pit's mysterious history.
In 1923 the Knights of Columbus put forth $15,000 for development of an athletic field on the property. The original field had little grass, and it had to share room with a baseball field. In 1929, football was pulling ahead of all other sports at Elder in terms of popularity. This led to the students fighting to get a stadium built, but the streets around it meant they had to add on to what they already had. The field was plagued with weeds, rocks, and stones, but people would stand in deep mud, straining their necks just to catch a glimpse of the man-gods. A few wooden bleachers were supplied to try and end the problem, but there were never enough seats for everyone. Finally, in 1938, students volunteered their lunch breaks to clean up debris for the construction of new concrete stands.
Construction on The Pit marched along in April of 1941. Elder's fledgling Purple Quill reported that "The students of Elder have a right to boast about the stands. We are the only school in the country that is making its own stadium." At this time, The Pit could seat about 3,700 people, quite an acomplishment for those times. One problem did arise, however: the Panthers needed a place to get dressed for the games. Under the supervision of Father Krusling, football players themselves laid the brick foundation for their new locker room underneath the concrete Pit. A locker room was later added under the visitors' side, and a batting cage was even put in under the concrete in the horseshoe. After a several year hiatus for WWII, production really took off in the years 1946-1949. Many new and hi-tech features were added on. To keep the field from getting too muddy, the field was torn up and rebuilt with a "crown", or a raised section in the middle that leads rainwater to drains at the sides of the field. In addition, a gutter system was installed and a holding tank was put in under the end zone of the field to gradually drain the water. Lights were installed so night games could be played, thanks to the generous donations of the Elder Welfare Association.
After some debate about property boundaries, the Zoning Commission granted Elder permission to erect the visitors' side of the stadium, adding hundreds of more seats. The finished stadium, which sat 9100 fans, was dedicated in 1947 by Archbishop McNicholas before the annual Thanksgiving Day game between Elder and West Hi. The Pit was now one of the best football stadiums in the region, but it came with a heavy price tag of around $300,000.
The football team consistently capitalized on the incredible home field advantage The Pit provided them. They continually dominated opponents in The Pit and worked to a 126-63-7 overall in the two decades to follow its completion. The field was used for many activities other than football, however. For instance, the first outdoor graduation in Elder history was scheduled for June 1, 1971. The intentions were good, but the conditions were terrible. Torrential downpours bombarded those in attendance, forcing the ceremonies to be cut in half. However, as one senior commented, most people who graduated that day will simply "remember it with a smile."
Perhaps the most dramatic event in The Pit's history took place in May of 1987. For one week, the famous "Moving Wall", a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., was placed in The Pit for the whole community to see. Over 80,000 people visited the memorial during its stay, including several thousand for the Opening Ceremony. Principal Father Kuhn, who was integral in bringing in the memorial, said the emotional experience caused "a solemn silence to hang over the stadium where the wall was located."
Throughout the years, The Pit has been a second home to the Elder faithful and a virtual nightmare for those who dare to oppose the Panthers. Many #1 teams have been slain within its daunting walls (including Cleveland St. Ignatius and Warren Harding this year). Who knows what improvements will be made to it in the years to come (perhaps a jacuzzi under the scoreboard or a Big Purple Monster?). Whatever happens, the real meaning of The Pit will never change. Perhaps Father Strittmatter put it best when he said, "Some awesome force could wipe out those buildings from the corner of Vincent and Regina and Elder would still be Elder because of the people."
The purple faithful now have one of the greatest places to play in the nation, as stated by the "USA Today" article. Their devotion to this institution of higher learning and athletic excellence is unparalleled by any team in the city, quite possibly the state. The way it was built, the way it is filled every Friday, and the way that the community comes together for just one football team is unprecedented. It makes Elder unique, and it makes Elder special.